It’s not every day you get to hear a now two-time Oscar winning director describe the visual layout of Hogwarts with impeccable clarity and then turn around and explain why The Bicycle Thieves has inspired his whole career. But that’s what was in store when Alfonso Cuarón spoke to film students as the inaugural guest of SFTV’s new series The Hollywood Masters, hosted by The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway. The program was presented like a retrospective of Cuarón’s life, chronicling his journey from his birth in 1961 to being on the precipice of winning the 2013 Best Director Oscar and everything in between. Here are some key highlights, below.
Calling himself and his compatriots who got kicked out of film school “arrogant brats” who clashed with the old regime, Cuarón followed a winding road to become the successful director he is today. He broke out with his film Love In the Time of Hysteria after working on a horror anthology show with Guillermo del Toro. Internationally, he broke out with A Little Princess, which he described as a happy accident, saying the film gelled together when it probably shouldn’t have.
Using Long Takes
Long takes seem to be a thing Cuarón is becoming well known for. He says long takes not only encourage intimacy and the presentation of the material, but that they bring the actors into the filmmaking process in a unique way. Cuarón remarked that long shots aid in the performance and allow the actors to become film makers, choosing where to make edits and choices.
Cuaron affectionately calls his longtime collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki “Chivo.” After meeting in film school, the DP has partnered with Cuarón so frequently that they have a near telepathic relationship. The best bit was learning how he and Chivo developed the camera work for Gravity through watching films like A Man Escaped and Steven Spielberg’s Duel.
The Making of Gravity
With a film as technically impressive as Gravity, it’s no shock that the film took a while to get off the ground. Cuarón went into the history of the project from the early tech experiments to Robert Downey Jr.’s involvement to the final piece. Perhaps most interesting was how he urged the team to understand his vision. He joked that he told his visual effects supervisor that he wanted N.A.S.A. to sue them because of how photo realistic the visuals were.
Cuarón mentioned numerous times the importance of cinema as a language and that characters and environment are the most important to telling a good story. He tied in his experience writing Y Tu Mama Tambien, which allowed him to return to Mexico and through his characters, comment both on the country evolving into a more mature nation while an older culture was simultaneously dying.
Cuarón implored the students several times that while film is a visual medium, understanding theme and language are just as important. Style, for style’s sake, is just aesthetic, an impression you can give the audience. But language and how a director uses the tools of cinema are what tie into the broader themes and create the film.
Near the end, Cuarón spoke about how he was optimistic for the future as this was the first generation to be born with a new set of tools. He encouraged the students to use what they’re learning in school as a jumping off point to understand and explore deeper themes.
The Hollywood Masters is a new series that examines the careers of Oscar-winning filmmakers and successful executives, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway and presented by LMU School of Film and Television.